Women’s History Month: Celebrating Women in Mental Health

Closing out Women’s History Month with some neat “mini-bios” I got to write about female pioneers in mental health! Please see the preview below or link to Missouri Partners in Prevention for the full post.

As is common in history classrooms, sometimes we don’t always learn a complete representation of all the pioneers who contributed to a particular subject or science. This trend holds true in mental health where names like Freud, Pavlov, Bandura, and Maslow lead the way in many of our psychology and education classes. While these men were brilliant thinkers in their own right, our understanding of mental health care is only enhanced by learning about some of the brilliant women who also contributed in a time and culture that may not have been as welcoming to their leadership, ideas, or work.

Below are brief descriptions of just a few women who made incredible contributions to the field of mental health as well as links and resources to follow if you would like to learn more about them and many others not mentioned here.

Women Pioneers in Mental Health

Dr. Margaret Morgan Lawrence, photo credit NY Presbyterian Health Matters

Dr. Margaret Morgan Lawrence: After losing her brother to a congenital condition, Dr. Lawrence was the only African-American student in her class and among only ten women at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. After beginning her career as a pediatrician, she later returned to school and became a psychiatrist. For 21 years, she served as the Chief of Psychiatry for Infants and Children at Harlem Hospital, accomplishing countless firsts not only for women but for African Americans in psychiatry.

Dorothea Dix, photo credit Wikipedia

Dorothea Dix: This exceptional activist transformed the profession of nursing through her work during the Civil War and later toured hospitals across the country, reporting troubling findings about the treatment of mentally unwell people. She later established asylums in several states and advocated for improved care for the mentally ill throughout the remainder of her life.

Anna Freud, photo credit Britannica

Anna Freud: Being the daughter of Sigmund Freud must have had an influence, not the least of which was introducing Ms. Freud in a very close way to the emerging field of psychoanalytics. Not only did she become an influential psychologist in her own right, she also was a pioneer in child psychoanalysis and an advocate for the expansion of children’s mental health care.

Nellie Bly, photo credit Wikipedia

Nellie Bly: Beginning her career as an investigative journalist, she learned of horrendous conditions endured by patients at a New York State asylum. She then posed as insane, lived within the walls of that facility for ten days, and then wrote an expose that led to mental health reform. Her experience is also detailed in a book, “Ten Days in a Madhouse.”

For the full post including additional mini-bios on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Elizabeth Packer, link here.

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